Diagnosis and Conservation of Paintings


The course is designed to introduce third year undergraduate level conservation students to the care and preventive conservation of historical and modern easel paintings (panel and canvas supports primarily).


The primary objective is to develop observation and assessment skills through teaching professional level documentation (Examination and Condition Reporting), safe handling, and the diagnosis & evaluation of a painting’s state of preservation (stability/instability).


Students will acquire basic knowledge of the primary materials and layer structure of  traditional and modern  paintings, and the physical and mechanical properties of the paint composite (support, ground & paint layers, varnish).  To assess a painting’s state of preservation in order to make recommendations for safe display, storage and travel, students will learn the principal causes of deterioration and will be introduced to the ethical issues and range of options for both historical and current conservation-restoration procedures. Scientific methods and techniques for investigating paint and paintings will be introduced and students will learn to carry out photo-documentation as well as micro-sampling and the use of both the stereomicroscope and the optical microscope.

General characterization





Responsible teacher

Joana Moura Devesa, Leslie Anne Carlyle


Weekly - 6

Total - 84

Teaching language





Course Handbook: Guide to Examination and Condition Reporting

The Conservation of Easel Paintings, Joyce Hill Stoner and Rebecca Rushfield (ed.),Routledge, Oxon, UK and New York, NY, 2012

Kirsh, Andrea and Rustin Levenson.  Seeing Through Paintings. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Dawson, W. Carr and Mark Leonard.  Looking at Paintings:  A Guide to Technical Terms.  Santa Monica, CA: The Getty Museum, 1992.

Supplementary: Gettens, R.J. and George L. Stout.  Painting Materials. New York: Dover, 1966. 

Teaching method

The curricular unit is given through lectures and laboratory sessions. Illustrated lectures explain and discuss different topics, the points are supported with case studies.  Laboratory sessions include demonstrations on basic techniques of preservation, followed by group assignments to evaluate the condition of individual paintings.

Evaluation method

Theoretical: mid-term test (1.5 hours) & end of term test (1.5 hours)

Laboratory: Interim Examination & Condition Report, oral presentation and discussion, end of term Report and presentation

Cumulative evaluation: class participation and performance

Grade calculation

Mark assignments are presented in a table given to all students at the beginning of lectures.



Cumulative evaluation

 Students who do not achieve a pass (9.5/20) in the term tests will have to write an exam.

BE AWARE: In any evaluation moment, students must also take into consideration the provisions of nº3 of article 10º of the ''Evaluation Rules of FCT NOVA'', “When fraud or plagiarism is proven in any of the evaluation elements of a UC, students directly involved are outright disapproved at UC, (…). ” 

Subject matter

Lectures 1-2 hour illustrated powerpoints.  Students are encouraged to ask questions throughout and to seek clarification for any of the concepts or issues being presented. Powerpoint lectures and associated publications/articles (as PDFs) for each session are available for students to download.

Studio sessions: students experience paintings first-hand and develop their visual/observational skills.  Students carry out an examination and condition report  and prepare or view paint and fibre samples with the optical microscope. They carry out photo-documentation with the following light sources: Normal, Raking, Transmitted, Ultra-violet (UV), and Infra-red (IR) as well as X-radiography. They are introduced to a range of diagnostic techniques used for investigating the materials and condition of a painting (e.g., FTIR, Raman, XRF, SEM-BSE).


Programs where the course is taught: